Famous to today’s generation more for what he said than what he did, Richie Benaud was a hugely successful international cricketer for Australia who made his name as a commentator off the back of his exploits in the game. In the aftermath of Donald Bradman’s retirement, individuals like Benaud maintained the high standards set for the Australian side and re-established them as the dominant side in the 1950s and 1960s.
Today, Benaud is considered one of the foremost authorities in the game and certainly one of its most prominent figures, being to commentary what Bradman is to batting. However, for all his merits as the voice of cricket, Benaud was first and foremost a fine cricketer whose expertise behind the microphone was a direct consequence of his experiences and achievements on the field.
Born on October 6th 1930 in Penrith in New South Wales, Richie Benaud was naturally disposed towards cricket because of his background. His father was a respected grade cricketer in Sydney who played for Penrith, and young Richie received quite an education watching his father twirl the ball.
However, it was as a batsman that Benaud first gained recognition, moving into grade cricket with Cumberland as a batsman and, after a series of fine performances, making his first class debut for New South Wales in the 1948-1949 season as a specialist batsman. His early career was somewhat subdued, being dropped to the Second XI almost immediately and then forced onto the sidelines for the rest of the season due to a freak accident on the pitch.
It didn’t take Benaud too long to get going though, quickly developing a reputation as a batting all-rounder with excellent timing and a huge arsenal of shots at his disposal. Selected for Australia against the West Indies in the Fifth Test of the 1951-1952 series, Benaud again failed to sparkle on his debut. So followed a series of unspectacular performances and, by the end of the 1954-1955 Ashes series against England, he had failed to reach a half-century or take five wickets in an innings.
Finally, Benaud came to life in the 1954-1955 season when the Australians toured the West Indies. His first half century in the Second Test was followed later by his first century in the Fifth Test, coming in just 78 minutes. By the end of the series, Benaud had taken 18 wickets at an average of 26.94 and scored 246 runs at an average of 41 as the Australians romped to a 3-0 victory.
After falling foul of the English in the 1956 Ashes tour (despite an improved individual performance), Benaud again made massive strides with the tour of India in the 1956-1957 season. His bowling, in particular, dramatically improved and, by the end of the series, he had picked up an exceptional 24 wickets at an average of just 17.66.
Having finetuned his game, Benaud again took another leap forward, starting with the 1957-1958 tour to South Africa. In a truly exceptional period, Benaud took 106 wickets over the course of the tour and scored 817 runs, including four centuries. The Australians were victorious 3-0, with Benaud scoring 329 runs in the Test series at an average of 54.83 and taking 30 wickets at 21.93